A tall order
Within western governments – and not least in Canada – there is scant sign that this message has resonated, or even registered faintly. Mired in hypocrisy and beset by contradictions, most administrations are thrashing about in a thorny thicket of chronic underperformance and face a crisis of credibility, if not legitimacy.
What, then, to do if we are to avert plunging over a civilizational tipping point beyond which there may be no return? there are at minimum three pre-requisites:
Get to global governance. The Breton Woods institutions represent a bygone era and are foundering. Think disastrous military interventions in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, disarray in NATO, the serial failure of neoliberal economic prescriptions, paralysis at the UN and the implosion of the ill-starred G-7 Summit in Charleviox. There has been some institutional renewal (the G-20, Asian Infrastructure and Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and progress (the African Union and ASEAN), but none of it is nearly enough. Heteropolarity, globalization and shifting power won’t wait.
Up the diplomatic game. As a non-violent approach to the management of international relations characterized by dialogue, negotiation, compromise, representation and problem solving, diplomacy is part art, part science and part alchemy. At a time when the world’s most serious challenges – climate change, pandemic disease, environmental collapse, to name a few – are immune to the application of armed force, diplomacy is needed more than ever. You can’t send out an expeditionary force to occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy, or garrison against Ebola, or call in an airstrike on a warming planet. But in North America, and in much of South America, Europe, and Africa, foreign ministries are under-resourced (if not gutted) and in crisis. Diplomacy’s business model and organizational structures are in desperate need of radical reform, rigorous innovation and substantial reinvestment.
Jettison outdated thinking. The globalization age is volatile, complex and uncertain. Ambiguity and paradox reign. Yet the mind-set of most Western leaders features three hallmarks carried over from the previous historical epoch. These include:
- Subscription to a binary world view: everything is perceived as black/white; good/bad; win/lose. From rigid alignment during the Cold War with the “Free World” or the “Commies” to today’s equivalent of “you’re with us or with the terrorists”, there remains no place for subtle shades of grey.
- Characterization of the overarching threat as universal and undifferentiated: the enemy is everywhere and it’s all the same. The Soviet Union, China, Viet Nam, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and others once constituted the ubiquitous “Red Menace”. Now it is ISIL, Al Qaeda, their affiliates, plus the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah and many more who together are treated as an ever-present source of dread and are reputed to endanger everyone, all of the time.
- Militarization of the international policy response: reach first for the gun, maintain a permanent war footing, and rely on the politics of fear to engineer domestic support. Few will forget the fearful symmetry of containment, deterrence, proxy war and Mutually Assured Destruction; fast forward to the present and find the endless War on Terror – drone assassinations, counterinsurgency, and the proliferation of bases, “stabilization operations” and special forces.
Plus ca change.
Combine the persistence of a simplistic world view with a blunt, but far reaching assessment of the threat, and you have an international policy prescription for permanent defense dominance at the expense of diplomacy and development.
They are diminished as the Leviathan grows.
And there’s the rub.